Monday, February 06, 2006

Sneak Attack and Spells That Hurt (Gaming)

artwork by malcolm mcclinton; copyright hangedman studios; used with permission; see for more

In order for a rogue/sneak attack character to get the most out of his class choice, he must, from time to time attack someone from behind, usually before they can act. This is a no-brainer. It's the core ability of the class in combat. However, if initiative is the enemy of gaming that I have claimed it is, we need a surrogate for the present sneak attack; something that allows GMs and PCs to augment game play without ruining one of the best classes in the game.

Method 1: A rogue always deals additional damage equal to his Dexterity bonus.

Method 2: A rogue always deals additional damage equal to his Wisdom bonus. Hey look. We found another use for Wisdom.

Method 3: A rogue always deals additional damage equal to his Intelligence bonus. Hey look. We found another use for Intelligence.

Method 4: A rogue always deals additional damage equal to his level, so long as he is using a Small weapon.

Method 5: A rogue can take the Sneak Attack skill (more on this in the skills chapter).

Method 6: Removing the flat-footed component from the game, the rogue can now wait and strike. By "aiming" for a number of rounds equal to 1d6 minus the Wisdom bonus of the PC, the rogue can sneak attack any creature that could normally be hit with a sneak attack. Whether the opponent is aware of the rogue or not. This slightly nerfs the ability, but takes away the deadliness of sneak attack at higher levels. The rogue should add his Wisdom and Intelligence bonuses to the attack roll.

Method 7: Sneak attacks are resolved as normal attacks, but in place of the BAB + Str bonus of the rogue, he uses his level + Wis bonus as his BAB, but the natural AC of the target is increased by +5 due to the difficult nature of the strike. A miss is a miss.

Method 8: Sneak attacks no longer deal normal damage. Instead, they deal damage per the new rogue class in the upcoming chapter.

Method 9: Rogues determine with type of sneak attack damage they wish to do, per the optional rules in the upcoming chapter mentioned above.

Method 10: Replace rogues with bards (just kidding).

PCs that kill a rogue adversary (of any level) only gain 1/2 XP for the encounter, if the opponent never used his sneak attack ability.

Magic is tricky business in RPGs. In order for it to be used by control-freak gamers, each spell must be defined with parameters and rules... which, essentially robs it of any chance to be "magical." I can't solve that right now, but bear in mind it's a topic near and dear to my heart and I have some solutions, none of which people are going to like.

As it plays out in fantasy games, higher level spells do nothing more than blow things up better. Non-damage dealing utilitarian spells should be in a separate class, and each level should have more and more of them, creating MORE options, not narrowing your choices.

This goes for just about every game I can think of. But, of course, DnD suffers greatly and seems as topical as anything else written on this site.

At first and second level, the options left to transmutation spells total around two dozen. At 9th level, there are three. THREE! And only one (time stop) is worth taking.


Essentially, all 17th-level transmutation specialists are the same?!? They can all stop time... and then go ethereal (if such a thing exists in your home brew campaign)... and do, what exactly?!?!?

Instead of wizards developing a style all their own, becoming hermits that study and develop spellbooks of unique and amazing power... they've become clones of one another... boring old carbon copies.

If every archmage you talk to knows the same 10 high-level spells... what's the arcane secret that alters the course of mankind?

Well. I have two solutions. One, I can’t reveal because it may eventually get printed in a book. Sorry. The second is the concept of dead magic, which we’ll be adding to the world of Raavnia in a few months. Control freaks will NOT like it.

But anyone interested in returning an air of mystery to spellcasting may find it an enjoyable alternative.

Kevin Wilson once taught me the following:

Spells that stop me (PC) from acting or that limit my actions
are a good way to get the DM punched in the head.

While Kevin's views were extreme, he opened my eyes to the most fundamentally stupid spell in gaming... hold person... a spell the completely halts action and prevents game play... the entire point of showing up and hanging out in the first place. They might as well have called the spell go home. And it's only second level! Casting this spell is control-freak measures on an impossible scale and it needs to go away.

When the DM uses this tactic he's telling the player, "I don't want your character involved."

When the PC uses this tactic he's telling the DM, "I don't want to think about this encounter. Just stop moving, okay."

It has one function and it needs to die. Along with hold person, spells like entangle, web, and dominate also need to go. Slow can stay. It penalizes without stopping action. It's okay to limit options, it is not okay to deny them, altogether.

Tanglefoot bags are gone too.

I don't have a list of every spell in front of my that paralyzes, but they all need to go. Ghoul paralytic touches also need to go, along with the elven immunity to them.

Instead, a ghoul now does 1 point of Dexterity damage in addition to normal damage, no save. Ghasts do 1d3 points.

Grease is a keystone cop movie gone wrong. Thematically, it ruins the game and/or turns every fight into the same inane series of prat-falls. It’s out too.

And if you want to create a range of interesting low-level wizards, get rid of magic missle, sleep, summon monster (any) and m’s acid arrow. Make wizards and sorcerers think for a change. Check out what they take instead, you’ll be amazed.

Before we renovate everything, we need to establish the basics, which means determining what will be the framework of magic (not the colleges, but the function). Spell functions fall into one of six categories:

Bump spells: Bless, magic vestment
Damage-dealing spells: Duh
Divination spells: Augury, locate object
Penalty spells: Doom, enervation
Summon: The summon monster stuff (which is just a lot of unfun bookkeeping)
Utility spells: Jump, mount, spider climb

Each level, there should be an equal number of each type to choose from. But instead, there are fewer and fewer utility and divination spells at higher levels. A look at the 4th level divination spells tells us, the DnD crew didn't do a fair job of thinking about what might be useful. Being able to scry that the villain is taking a bath does not seem as useful as wall of fire.

So, that means we need new spells, with new ranges of power.

This will have to happen in another chapter and will take some time to develop.

In the mean time, demand that your spellcasters learn a spell from each catagory, before they can learn a duplicate of the same type. There doesn't need to be an explanation for it, just make it a rule. It will increase game play and interest, without resorting to fireball every time someone reaches 3rd level.

I also believe that the summon category needs complete reworking, which we'll also develop, later. But in the meantime, summon monster spells should be removed, but the remaining conjuration spells can stay.

artwork by malcolm mcclinton; copyright alderac entertainment group; see for more

Lastly, we need a third spell-caster class, which will get some attention later as well. While sorceror and wizard provide the basic function of birth-power vs. studied-power, it does not address the more important fundementals of interesting specialists. The specialist system is a bit of a joke, because there's only 4 of the 8 worth taking, anyway.

However, I intend to showcase a new vein of specialists, which will replace the wizard in time.

Enough for now.



Herb said...

Not sure if I should be posting here, but since I happened across it, might as well.

Since the most important skills of most rogues are Int (skill points) and Dex (skills), adding one of those mods to damage seems more natural, than say, wisdom. So I don't like Method 2.

Method 4 basically says for a rogue, I can get up to +20 by making sure I lose 2-4 points of potential damage (unless they were thinking greatswords.) Starting at level 2, this sounds good, by level 8, it's clear that this is much better than the available weaponry. (1d4+8 vs 2d6).

Method 5: I didn't see anything on skills yet, I think that's later. At any rate, as long as it isn't like Oriental Adventure's Iajitsu Focus which got rapidly out of hand in my opinion (a 10th level Iajitsu Master could basically massive damage anyone). However, it's a logical idea that has potential. Will comment on it when I find out about how the proposed Sneak Attack skill looks.

Method 6: With a wis of +6 or higher, this penalty is no longer a problem (or at most 1 round). The main issue lies in defining "aiming". It obviously requires line of sight, but does it require the rogue to be in melee while aiming? Is it a standard action, or can they be in total defnse while aiming? Adding Int and Wis modifiers to the attack roll seems like a lot of boosting. As an example, look at a 4 round wait time to acquire +6 to the attack roll, not to mention getting sneak attack damage.

Methods 8 & 9: Too early to comment.

The other methods I guess I'm okay with or skipped over or something.

Oh and Method 10: As long as Bards get Sneak Attack as a class skill (if Method 5 is used)... then it's all good! (kidding)

Sorry if I'm making an idiot of myself (I bet somewhere I was), seeing as how I'm very tired at the moment and when I am I always mess stuff up. Well there should be something to glean from all that commenting hopefully.

richvalle said...

Posted this in the wrong place the first time:

Man, you sure don't mind ripping the heart out of dnd and then turning it over and dropping it on its head for good measure.

Very thought provoking though.

Sneak Attack: We threw away the flat-footed rules from day one of 3.0 (at least for the 'flat-footed till you take an action part. Ambushes would still work). Rogue's seem find without it as they can sneak attack from flank.

Spells. Wow.

I see what you are saying. I even agree with it. Until you said something it would never had occurred to me to remove those spells. Something to ponder.

I bought the Spell Compendium with 1000 or so spells in it. One thing I'm hoping to do with it is to expand on the spell lists. Maybe make it so Sorc and Wiz spell lists are different though they may overlap at points. Make it so Clerics of different domains get different spell lists. We'll see.

I had thought about the lack of utility spells in dnd before. When I was reading that Magical Medieval Western Europe book by Exp. Retreat press.

They point out how useful Mage Hand and other low level spells would be to a serf. And I started thinking... Yeah... shouldn't there be a whole class of spells that do things for 'common' folk? Some spells are there are already, like Mend but most the spells are adventure/combat focused. Seems like there should be all kinds of spells to make daily life better.

Some of them could be extensions of 'normal' spells. Like 'pro from vermin 10' radius. Keeps out lice, fleas, bed bugs, ect. Or a 'wall of force' that only works on water. You have it in your entry way of your shower/bath room. As you step out the water stays in.

Maybe a 'remove smells' spell.

Too tired to think of others.

I would be VERY curious to see what spells my players would take if MM, Sleep, ect were removed.



jim pinto said...

I like Wisdom as the necessary stat for rogues in these instances, because they already have a good reason to increase their Int, Dex, Str, and Cha.

Method 6 is actually my favorite, but what Rogus is going to have a Wisdom of 16 or more?!?

And if they do, another stat is suffering.

And "aiming" is both melee and ranged. Which means the rogue is missing out on an attack for X number of rounds in order to gain the attack and damage bonus.

During this time, he can take no action but aiming (and his 5-foot step). Taking a defensive action means he is not focusing on his enemy.

Aiming takes a minimum of 1 round.

And I'm not familiar with the OA Iajitsu focus thing.

Yeah. Method 4 sucks.

BlueBlackRed said...

Eegad man, just make your own fantasy might be easier.

I have a role-playing reason to not have rogues use their wisdom stat as a bonus to anything other than their Will saves: They're thieves! The life of a rogue is not an optimal choice. They make dumb choices and wisdom is the stat to make dumb choices, even if they're smart.

I do agree with the poor choices of spells that we have to work with. But I would suggest taking a look at the Spell Compendium. I've not been a big fan of what WotC has released since Hasbro took, but this book is amazing.
Every class got something good, but Divination was left a bit shy. But Transmutation was blessed with nice higher level spells.

And I agree with Kevin Wilson...although I have been known to use those spells...